Opinion: violence against women is an issue of national security

It is a fact that women are living in some of the direst circumstances in situations of conflict. Not only is poverty often most severe in conflict situations, but women are frequently deliberately targeted for violence in order to fuel conflicts and undermine prospects for peace, development and human progress. Without addressing violence against women, we’re not going to get people out of poverty, and we’re not going to end conflicts.

I visited a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is supported by the European commission and also our government. 90% of the work of that hospital was about providing medical support to women victims of violence who have sustained injuries so horrific that you can barely imagine.

Having spoken to some of these women, I have come to realise how this violence is not just physically debilitating, it is also socially destroying. The stigma and ostracisation that these women face tear at the social fabric of their communities and threaten any prospects for peace. We are not yet dealing with this social destruction and we need to be.

Women must be part of the solution of ending violence against women. But I don’t see this as a ‘women’s issue’. I see it as a security issue. It is a fact that violence against women is used as a weapon in wars to destabilise communities. It is also a fact that women are key to peace building and are integral to helping families and communities rebuild after conflicts. That affects people other than women; indeed it affects whole nations and even the international community, of which Britain is of course part.

It can be tempting to treat violence against women as something to do with women and leaving it at that. But compartmentalising violence against women in conflict situations as a women’s issue makes it difficult to challenge the root causes of the problem. We must resist this tendency to compartmentalise. This is about men too – their decisions and their roles and how we can transform inequalities between men and women.

Our coalition government’s priority international work includes a focus on a country whose conflict we are currently engaged in for reasons of national security: Afghanistan. This is evidenced by the two Parliamentary Inquiries that are currently open, one by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and one by the Defence Select Committee. They both ask how we can best achieve ‘success’ in Afghanistan.

Do we have the right answers? We know that more girls are going to school in Afghanistan as a result of strong recent efforts. That is a good thing. But we also know that girls in schools are often targeted for violence as part of the conflict. We must therefore ensure that part of our intervention efforts in Afghanistan include success indicators on the rights of women and girls – are we strengthening them or putting them at further risk?

There are some very articulate and courageous women in the parliament of Afghanistan. They are taking on a difficult task, challenging social and cultural norms to bring change to many more women and girls in the country. In many ways, this is the difficulty: the destiny of women in countries in conflict requires the speaking out by brave women from those societies, though it puts them at risk.

We must be as brave, and be clear that if we are going to be involved in international affairs, we are entitled to ask questions on the international stage about the rights of women, violence against women, and women’s involvement in peace building and development.

The courage of women in conflict situations deserves to be matched by strong and dedicated leadership by men and women in Britain standing alongside them and working for change.

Malcolm Bruce MP, spoke at ActionAid’s Liberal Democrat Conference fringe ‘On The Frontline: Women, Peace & Conflict’ hosted with Women Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • patrick murray 27th Sep '10 - 8:37am

    i agree. on a slight tangent maybe you could make this case in the parliamentary party with reference to the new eu directive on human trafficking?

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